Friday, April 4, 2008

Three Squirrel Tragedies

Years ago, in 1997, my dad came to stay with me as he died of cancer. One of my sisters came to help out, and we were both very stressed. We both take comfort in nature. My sister is almost completely blind, but she hears very well. She heard a squirrel in the yard and she decided to tame it as a distraction from our dad's slow and hard to watch death. She used peanut butter, and after about a week the squirrel came right up to her, very, very close. At the time I had no animals so our interactions with the squirrel were all we had for an animal connection.

A day or two after my dad died, my sister called me to the back yard. She said she heard the squirrel and it was very upset but she could not see what was wrong. I went to the noise. It was coming from just across my fenceline to the west. There was a small steel trap and inside, racing from side to side, chattering, and trying to chew free, was our squirrel.

We went to my neighbor's house. I wasn't sure if he was trying tot trap the squirrel or something else. "Excuse me," I said to his wife, "You have a squirrel in a trap back there and I would like to see if I could let him out, he is pretty stressed."

"No, you can't let him out, we are having him for dinner," she said. I didn't think I had heard her right. I tried to clarify and learned that she and her husband (who joined her at the door), who are in their seventies now and from the country, like squirrel stew and do not care for squirrels in their trees or gardens. So, sometimes they trap them and apparently, no joke, consume them. They could see we were upset and invited us to stay for dinner, which of course, was OUT of the question.

I asked if they would make an exception and I tried to explain that we'd tamed the squirrel and it was sort of a friend of ours. No luck. In fact, I think they thought we were as crazy as we thought they were. I don't remember more details but I know I left thinking I'd tried all I could to get the squirrel released and I was really sad and frustrated I couldn't do it. My sister and I were sick about it and of course, did not encourage any other squirrels to come nearby. (For a year or so I tried to scare them to the east side of the property to avoid the neighbor).

So yesterday I let Sarah and Samantha, the newly free ranging chickens, roam. I was checking on them as they pecked near the west side of the property when I heard it. The scratching, the frantic little scratching on metal. I looked over and sure enough, a little squirrel was trapped. I knew it was hopeless to get his or her release, so I turned away and tried not to think about it, hoping the death would be quick, once again revolted that I live next to a squirrel eater. (I don't think ducks fare well on his land either).

Now of course I thought of sneaking over and trying to release the squirrel - but here is the thing. It's private property, my neighbor is a gun fanatic, and he is REALLY protective of his land and his things. And, I have a lot of animals that I don't want hurt, killed, poisoned, or disappearing. He has in fact called me before if the horses are upset or there is a stray dog near them, and he has returned animals that have come onto his land without harming them. I always let him know which animals are mine and make sure they don't cause him trouble and I can't afford to piss him off and risk that he retaliates. He kills wild life and my domestic animals stay safe. Not a great bargain but what can I do?

So anyway, yesterday was squirrel tragedy number two. Today I was driving home and a squirrel was in the street, not in my lane, but one lane over. He/she had a broken back leg or two and was desperately spinning in circles trying to run away and not making it. The poor thing was terrified, wide eyed and very much alive - no doubt in terrible pain and shock and desperate to live. It had gotten to the middle of the road so cars were driving over it, sometimes slowing down, not crushing it. The most humane thing to do at that point was probably run over it so it stopped suffering. As I could not do this from my lane, and no one else was doing it, I hurried home (just a few blocks away) and got a box. I returned to the scene to try to capture the squirrel and take it to the vet to see if it could either be saved or humanely euthanized.

It wasn't moving anymore, but its eyes were open and I wasn't sure if it was breathing or twitching. I darted out between cars and scooped it up. It was limp and warm. I tried to feel for a heartbeat but I didn't want to waste time and I put the box in the car and went to Westvet as quickly as I could. I didn't see it blink. I wasn't sure if it was dead, or in shock. I handed him or her off to Westvet and said I would pay for treatment if it could be saved or euthanasia if it could not. They said that he/she was apparently dead on arrival but to be sure they gave it a little shot of euthanasia meds. They didn't charge me.

I feel bad that the squirrel suffered, bad that I could not spare it or save it some pain. I ask myself whether if I had stopped right away instead of going for a box...would it have mattered, etc., all the usual things you do when something is not your fault but you want to believe that possibly you could have made a difference anyway. I can't shake the look of panic on the little face as it spun around dragging those back legs. I can't forget the warm, small body and how it felt heavy and soft.

I know there are big tragedies in the world, but there are small ones too. I hope there were no baby squirrels left behind, or a bereft mate still looking for the one that isn't coming home.


Roe said...

if you do come across a situation like that in the future where the animal died basically in front of you so you know how it died, I'll take the carcass to feed to my bird so that at least some good will come of it. I am really not trying to be insensitive, but I mean my bird has to eat, and with the contribution of that squirrel that would be one less quail that would have to die to feed my bird.

If you find that too distasteful I totally understand and I'm sorry for having brought it up, but a hawk has to eat meat and in this sad case a squirrel had to die so in the future the best could be made of a bad situation.

For the record while I understand on some level the idea of killing for food I abhor the actions of your neighbors. Their actions were cruel. There are plenty of squirrels out there for stew it didn't have to be the tamed one that your neighbor keeps.

Also keep comfort in the fact that they are most likely dieing painless deaths. Squirrels are dangerous to handle, they can bite through most any gloves and still take a chunk or more out of your hands, or so I have been told. For this reason I don't hunt them with my hawk, as a squirrel could take off one of his toes.

Esmae said...

I understand and I don't find the idea of a deceased animal feeding another gross. Had I thought or known it could have been put to good use I would have taken that option and should something similar happen again, I'll contact you. I know I have the link to your blogs around and I can track down an email for you that way I assume.

Some African tribes (many) used to lay the dead out for the hyenas. Personally I like the idea, as you might as well give some final gift of life. I'd like to be an organ donor if I can, but donating to animals or people isn't important, either would be fine.

I was prepared to get bit if the squirrel was alive, I couldn't blame it, it was suffering. I always find myself thinking a situation is dangerous and going in anyway when an animal is in need.

Anyway, thanks for the comment and the potentially constructive use of lost animal life in the future.

Roe said...

If you need to you can just post to your blog and we'll work it out. I have your blog in my rss blogroll so I check it every day.